Posts in Reading Recommendations

Book Review: 2 Thought-Provoking Reads for Parents

September 2nd, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 4 comments

I did not expect to enjoy, let alone agree with, Esther Wojcicki’s book, How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results. I was wrong.

If her difficult-to-pronounce last name sounds familiar, it may be because two of her daughters are well-known business leaders (Youtube and 23andMe) while the middle daughter is an anthropologist and epidemiologist. Because of her daughters’ professional prominence I expected the book to be a guide to raising career women and minimizing, perhaps even disparaging, the roles of wife and mother. I was wrong.

While I did cringe at Mrs. Wojcicki’s mistaken description of Judaism’s attitude to women based on her personal experience as the daughter of struggling immigrant parents, I found the book full of (unfortunately uncommon and counter-cultural) common sense, warmth and interesting anecdotes and ideas. Esther Wojcicki focuses on values that she used both as a teacher and as a mother and that she denotes by the acronym TRICK: Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration and Kindness. There is a great deal of thought-provoking material in this book and I do recommend reading it.

At just about the same time I read, Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters. Written by psychoanalyst Erica Komisar, to my surprise (since I certainly agree with the premise of the title) I found quite a bit to disagree with in this book. The tone is a bit grating and there are some strange statements as well as an annoying demand for government intervention.

However, I do think that this book is worth reading if only because the idea that a mother has unique gifts to offer her child is routinely rejected in today’s culture. This book will make uncomfortable reading for many parents whose children have already passed the ages being discussed but for those who are making decisions for the future it will raise worthwhile points to ponder. Among other nuggets, it raises fascinating questions that should be addressed by those couples planning on having a stay-at-home father and out-of-the-house working mother.

So few young couples today have a healthy grounding for raising a family. Many haven’t grown up in or near thriving families. The current educational system as well as government interference in family life sends confusing, misguided and mistaken messages. Without thinking, repeating patterns from childhood becomes the default and today’s cultural institutions do little to inject wisdom. If these books can provoke thought, discussion and  deliberation they serve a valuable function.

(If you do like what you see and purchase using the links in this post, we will receive a small commission on the purchase.)

First Do No Harm

July 26th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

As a young adult, I spent some time in Israel. One bonus of being there was meeting people who came from so many different places and backgrounds. When a rare snowstorm hit Jerusalem it was the very first time that a number of my friends had ever seen snow fall. While there is always something beautiful in watching falling flakes, it was especially exciting experiencing that event alongside those for whom it was new.

As adults, parents and teachers have the awesome opportunity of introducing so much of life to innocent children. We may take snow or stories or physical laws like gravity for granted, but one of our gravest responsibilities is making sure not to diminish the wonder of these things for the next generation.

Ann Patchett is a successful novelist and the co-owner of a bookstore in Tennessee. In that capacity she said, “I find myself flipping through the giant green binder of summer-reading lists from all the area schools and being struck by how many seem committed to wringing every ounce of joy from a young person’s relationship to a book.” She then proceeds to describe the often boring and cumbersome instructions that accompany the list of required reading.

What a condemnation! I can think of few skills more important than knowing how to read, but it is a wasted skill if a passion for reading doesn’t accompany it. A talented parent or teacher can peel open a book revealing depths not necessarily evident on a first reading and guide a young reader to get more from a story. A mentor can point a child towards books that will help the youth become a greater person. Those same educators can crush a love of reading, impoverishing and harming a child.

There are a few more weeks of summer. What books have you been reading aloud to your children during these longer days? If you aren’t confident in your reading, there are wonderful audio books to listen to alongside your children. One can hope that their teachers are not among the Grinches stealing the pleasure from reading. If they are, your role is even more important. Just as I enjoyed my Jerusalem snowfall more because of the friends sharing it, little will make your children enjoy reading more than sharing it with you.

Vacuous Vacation or Summer Holiday?

June 3rd, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 8 comments

Marrying a man born and raised in the British Empire, who speaks “authentic” English expanded my vocabulary. While some words, like queue, made it into my daily speech, others, like bonnet for the hood of the car, never did.

But there is one British word that I have gladly adopted and think is much more joyful and suitable than its American counterpart. I love the way that the British go on holiday rather than vacation. After all, vacation focuses on what you are leaving behind. You are vacating work or school or your daily routine. Holiday is full of mystique and charm, focusing on thrilling activities that will take the place of everyday life.

Holidays are distinct from “holy” days, set aside by religious or even civic duty. When Arthur Ransome titled one of his children’s books, Winter Holiday, he wasn’t talking of Christmas, but rather of what Americans might call winter break. Not surprisingly, as a winter holiday it was not used for going to the dentist, watching TV and sleeping late but instead was a period of adventure and excitement for the protagonists of his story. You might sleep away a break but who would so mistreat a holiday?

There is another dimension to this seemingly minor vocabulary difference. When you vacate or take a break from something, there is an implication that it is a burden you are happy to shrug off. In contrast to that, a holiday means that there is a fleeting (after all holidays can’t last forever) opportunity on the calendar. A subtle point, perhaps, but subtleties can have big impact.

So, as students come to the end of their school year, I don’t want to wish them a happy vacation. Anyone with a few unencumbered days should have plans to execute, ideas to implement, and dreams to realize. If imaginations are too shriveled to think beyond the ordinary, I would suggest tossing the electronics and investing in copies of some classic British children’s literature like that of Richmal Crompton, Enid Blyton, E. Nesbit, and of course, Arthur Ransome. Expand your vocabulary as you read them aloud to your children on a blanket at the beach or park. After all, how often do holidays come around?

 

Book Review: A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen

May 19th, 2019 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

At the time a new movie about Marie Antoinette was released, our high-school age daughter made a comment to a friend about the Queen’s youth at the time of her dramatic encounter with the guillotine. Her friend was quite peeved at how our daughter had ruined the movie by giving away the ending.

Ignorance of history portends unhappiness for a civilization. If citizens are able to internalize the concept that, “There is nothing new under the sun,” by recognizing repeated trends and ideas, they are less vulnerable to the “newest and greatest idea” that falsely promises to provide universal freedom, peace and prosperity.

This is one reason that boring history tomes are a menace. History that is dry and lifeless makes no impression. Good historical fiction that creates imaginary characters while faithfully presenting events is a valuable resource. The minute that anyone, whether Marie Antoinette or the family that grew the wheat used in the royal kitchen, catches one’s imagination, the important occurrences of their lives and the applicable dates and locations become unforgettable.

With this in mind, I’d like to recommend a book for pre-teens and up entitled, A Night Divided. The story starts in 1961, on the night that the Berlin Wall dividing East and West Germany was erected. Eight-year-old Gerta, her fourteen-year-old brother and mother are trapped in their home in the East while another brother and their father are on the other side, aware that returning home is no longer an option due to their political leanings. The bulk of the book takes place four years down the road as Gerta and her brother begin plotting to escape to the West and reunite their family.

Read as an adventure story, the book is gripping. Adding some historical context gives it great value. It is a good sign that even in our times, this book received positive reviews from various newspapers and organizations that prefer not to focus on the evils of Communism.  I would recommend either reading A Night Divided aloud or at least discussing it with children after they have finished it, making sure they understand that the depiction of control and fear exerted by the East German Communists, as well as the dreariness of life under their rule, was real. 

Eleanor’s Eleven Keys to a More Fulfilling Life

February 21st, 2019 Posted by Reading Recommendations, Susan's Musings 29 comments

Have you noticed how many books have a number in the title, like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People?  Or how many articles are enticingly entitled “The Top 5 Reasons We Fall Out of Love”?  We human beings love lists. Who wouldn’t be smitten with the idea that if I only do these seven or ten or fifteen things, my life will be better, my marriage will be stronger and my career will flourish? Of course, it is easier to read the ideas than to put in the hard work of executing them. And, of course, no list—even the most marvelous one—hits every area every time.

I recently read a book from decades ago, with a subtitle that still resonates today. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, one of America’s most admired women, wrote You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life only a few years before her death (decades after her husband’s presidency). The advice she gives holds up rather well, though I think she would be shocked to discover that by today’s standards she might very well be considered a hard-core conservative rather than an icon of the Democrat Party.

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Book Recommendations: Navigating Early and Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

February 11th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

I am rather excited at finding not one but two books to recommend for pre-teen and teenage boys. Girls will enjoy these books too, but I find that a disproportionate number of fiction books cater to girls and frequently many boys aren’t interested in them.

I assume that I picked up the first on someone’s recommendation, because the title would not have enticed me. I’m sorry I don’t remember who it was so I could direct my appreciation their way. Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster might be a title that you too would overlook, but in my opinion it is worth serious perusal.

Jonathan Auxier crafts a gripping story that is, in his words, “a tangled knot of fantasy and fact.” He inserts the legend of the golem—a creature brought to life by Rabbi Loew in 1500s Prague to protect the Jewish community from vicious anti-Semitism—into the life of a young female chimney sweep in Victorian England. The book provides fertile ground for a homeschooling unit study and I hope you will consider it as a read-aloud that might spark numerous important conversations with your child.

The second book I heartily recommend is Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool. While all children are different, my teenage grandson who read this on his own did not enjoy it while his younger siblings (ten and up) who heard it as a read-aloud by their mom loved it. I can’t stress often enough how a well done reading aloud experience can transform a complex, sometimes confusing, story into a gem. Like Sweep, Navigating Early inserts serious topics, in this case, autism, resilience, and appreciating those who are different into an adventurous tale.

Though both these books touch on important issues, they are enjoyable reads that include wonderful story-telling and language. I’d love to hear what you think of these books and whether you agree with me that they deserve a place on your bookshelf.

(If you do like what you see and purchase using the links in this post, we will receive a small commission on the purchase.)

 

The Tuttle Twins – book recommendation

January 14th, 2019 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 4 comments

When the Bible and Vladimir Lenin agree, it’s time to pay attention. One of Scripture’s recurring themes is teaching and shaping the next generation’s views and beliefs. As for Lenin, he said, “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”

If you are shocked by the way college students are embracing socialism, you haven’t been paying attention for a few decades. Of course, this is a result of many factors, but one that is less frequently discussed is that few of us focus on economic education even when taking responsibility for our own children’s education. After all, when was the last time you discussed inflation with your seven-year-old? Talked about competition and market regulation with your pre-teen?

Fortunately, the Tuttle twins have stepped into this void.  A series of entertaining books featuring the fictional twins present complex ideas with clarity and simplicity. Whether the twins are running a lemonade stand, enjoying themselves at camp or hanging out with neighbors and classmates, basic societal and economic principles intertwine with their lives.

I have frequently undertaken the job of warning you to beware of books that might undermine your family values. Often, the agenda in the books is hidden. If you don’t pre-read them, you will probably never know about the message on p. 63. In contrast, these books openly have an agenda: a defense of what my husband calls ethical capitalism. The author, Connor Boyack and illustrator, Elijah Stanfield, take concepts from thinkers, economists and authors such as Henry Hazlitt, Ayn Rand and Frederic Bastiat, and turn them into appealing and informative stories.

Judging by my test panel’s response, ranging in age from eight to fourteen, children will enjoy reading these books, which would be a worthwhile result in itself.  Even better would be if parents and older children read them as well, sparking an opportunity for family conversation and for more advanced reading for the older group. As parents, we ideally have more than four years to inoculate our children against the harmful ideas and mistaken beliefs that will bombard them. I heartily recommend that you add this series to your tool kit.

The Tuttle Twins

Hide and Seek

December 17th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 2 comments

I have written quite a bit lately about the children’s books I’ve been reading, appalled at how much of an agenda they contain. An article by Dave Seminera in the December 16, 2018 Wall Street Journal reminded me of another point.

I don’t know who chose the title for his opinion piece, but it is most apt. Reading from Left to Left points out that even if books are individually unoffensive, or even exemplary, the thrust of what is available leans heavily in one direction. Recently, certain adult news magazines ostensibly writing about women candidates in this fall’s election, highlighted only Democrat women, ignoring or downplaying those running on the Republican side. Mr. Seminera notes a similar philo-Left trend in the books chosen for display and attention at his Barnes & Noble.

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Censored Cilla

December 10th, 2018 Posted by Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations 4 comments

Hoop skirts and petticoats went out of style before my time as did butter churns. Nonetheless, I am two generations closer to a time when those items were in general use than my grandchildren are. And while I love sharing classic books with the young ones in my life, I also look out for writing situated in current times.

With this in mind, I was delighted to meet the fictional protagonist Cilla Lee-Jenkins, a spunky and funny eight-year-old aspiring author. Like the author, Susan Tan, Cilla’s family is composed of both “white-bread” American and Chinese immigrant grandparents.  The first two books in what may well become a long-running series were almost entirely a pleasure to read. (There is a third book I have not yet read.) Aye, there’s the rub.

In the second book, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book Is a Classic, Cilla’s aunt gets married, providing a pleasurable peek into both Chinese and Korean wedding customs. The sour note comes as Cilla’s aunt’s friend, Jane, is introduced along with her own girlfriend and soon-to-be spouse, Lucy. Sigh.

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Psst! Want the Secret to a Great Education?

November 26th, 2018 Posted by Homeschooling, Practical Parenting, Reading Recommendations No Comment yet

When I was actively homeschooling, I would occasionally see humorous lists citing the top reasons to homeschool.  One that resonated with me (and seemed serious to me even if it lent itself to funny illustrations) was that homeschooling validated hours upon hours of reading. Not only did I get to read in order to prepare for teaching, but there was a practical need for reading books about education and learning.

With that in mind, those of you in the trenches of parenting whether you are homeschooling or not, might enjoy reading two books that I recently finished. Lenora Chu is an America journalist whose parents immigrated to the States from China. When she and her small town, Minnesota-bred, blond and blue-eyed husband attain career opportunities in China, she utilizes her skills to explore and compare education in China and her home country. Since the couple has two young children, one of whom they enroll in school, her writing is conflicted, passionate and very human.

Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School and the Global Race to Achieve is a fun read that will make you think. Like Ms. Chu, you may find yourself alternately horrified, envious, curious and forced to analyze exactly what your goals for education are.

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